A global wave of illicit drug traffic and abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the last two years - so rapidly that many people are not yet aware of its size and scale.
The wave is still growing, dulling the thinking, undermining the health, and weakening the family ties of millions of people.
Terrorist and guerrilla groups, sometimes aided by communist nations, join in the smuggling of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and man-made pharmaceuticals. Profits are astronomical, maybe $80 billion a year.
The challenge has become so urgent that it has produced clear signs of a fight-back, notably in the US but also in some other countries. Parents in particular are mobilizing to help, along with politicians, church groups, doctors, pharmacists, and many others.
Many experts agree, however, that the long-term answer lies in awakening individual thought - in changing people's values so that they do not feel the need to turn to organic or chemical substances to feel better, to escape boredom or stress, to find status or friends.
Starting today, this newspaper presents the results of a three-month, 10 -country investigation by London correspondent David K. Willis. The five-part series includes:
Today: The global challenge.
Tomorrow: Parents in rich countries and governments in poor ones battle drug culture.
Monday: The new twist in an old trade - a flood of dangerous man-made drugs.
Tuesday: Hacking away at the roots of opium and coca cultivation.
Wednesday: Catching the smugglers.